Luke Donald became No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking in May. He has four wins on the PGA Tour and through July was top 10 in 16 short-game and putting stats. In the October issue of Golf Digest he shares his short-game keys.
Accelerate to the ball, and finish lowWhat you'll hear me say a lot here is that pure contact is my No. 1 goal. You just can't hit it sloppy around the green and get away with it for long. With chipping, I set up to make a downward strike: I play the ball slightly back in my stance, move my weight a touch left, and lean the shaft toward the target. Then I keep my wrists firm on the backswing and accelerate the clubhead to the ball, not through the ball. I'm not looking to sweep this shot off the turf. I want to make a crisp, downward hit, keeping the clubhead low in the finish (left).
A long finish means you over-acceleratedMany golfers focus too much on accelerating the club through the ball, usually because it's been drilled into their heads. This might guard against quitting on the shot, but it often leads to a short backswing and too long a follow-through (left). That means you've over-accelerated to the finish. All sorts of problems can result, like fat and thin shots and a lack of feel because the club is speeding out of control. Instead, make a little longer backswing and let the weight of the club accelerate into the ball, with the grip end leading the clubhead.
Hinge the club up, unhinge it downThe big thing for me on pitch shots is getting the clubhead swinging and letting that move my body, not the other way around. I start with the ball slightly forward and my hands centered in front of me. I also play the face a little open for all my pitch shots. Then I hinge the club upward going back, not around my body, with the toe pointing to the sky. Coming down, the club should unhinge the same way it went back (left). I want to feel it swinging down and through. The momentum of the club pulls my body to the finish.
The body shouldn't pull the club throughI know some golfers are tense on pitch shots and need to free up their bodies, but when the body takes over, it's an even bigger problem. If you make an aggressive turn toward the target without swinging the club in time with your body, you'll drag your arms and the club through impact, delofting the clubface (left). That's exactly what you don't want on pitches, where you need some loft. The clubhead should swing past your hands. Again, get the club swinging, and let your body just respond.
FOR LOFT: DO
Open the face more, and swing longerIf I need more height on a pitch shot, I make a few changes in my setup: Open the clubface more, move the ball up off my left foot, and set the shaft vertical or even leaning back a little (left). I also weaken my grip, turning my left hand more toward the target (inset). These adjustments give me more loft at impact, so I have to create some speed to hit the ball anywhere. My swing thought is to make a longer, lazier motion, hinging the club up more on the backswing and then rehinging it on the follow-through.
FOR LOFT: DON'T
The instinct to lift at impact is a killerRemember, solid contact should be your biggest priority. I see a lot of golfers falling back and scooping the ball to add loft (left). This drops the low point of the swing behind the ball, which leads to poor contact. You have to move your weight forward on the downswing to get a good strike. Pre-set more loft at address with the changes I just explained, then trust that you can hit down and through and produce the loft you need.
FOR SPIN: DO
Think about hitting ball then turfAs I do for a lofted pitch, I play the ball forward and open the clubface more. But adding backspin comes from a crisp, downward strike, not a long, lazy swing. With the face more open, I'm exposing the bounce, or back edge of the clubhead (inset). That part of the club will skid along the ground through impact. The sensation I feel is that the club hits the ball then the ground. I actually anticipate hearing two impacts: ball then turf. That will help me hit down and make a compact finish (left).
FOR SPIN: DON'T
The club should skid, not dig, at impactSome players understand the trapping motion required to increase spin, but they do it the wrong way. They move the ball way back in their stance and try to pounce down on it. That doesn't work for a couple of reasons: First, it takes too much loft off the clubface; second, it drops the leading edge down (left) so the club digs instead of skids at impact. That steep, digging action means you have to make a very precise strike, or you'll chunk it. The skidding action gives you room for error. Try it my way: Play the ball up and think, ball then turf.
Swing the putterhead, not the grip endI feel the putting stroke more with my arms, not by making the classic rocking motion of the shoulders. That allows me to swing the head of the club without moving the handle as much. I also want a little pop at impact, so it's an accelerating hit. That's a theme for me in the short game: Accelerate to the ball and make a shorter finish (left). Consistent contact is a big deal in putting, and making more of an arm stroke helps me achieve that. Also for consistency, I try to maintain the loft on the face by keeping my head still and the stroke a little shorter.
Contact suffers when the shoulders leadIn theory, the shoulder-driven stroke makes sense: It's like the pendulum of a clock. But in practice, it's not reliable. For one thing, the stroke gets too long on lag putts, which makes it harder to hit the ball flush. And when the shoulders dominate, the head tends to tilt to the right on the backstroke and to the left on the through-stroke (left). That changes the loft on the face, decreasing it going back and increasing it through impact. The result is poor contact and a lack of control. So putt with your arms, and you'll roll it with confidence.